Everything You Need to Know About Choosing Brand Fonts

Woman holding the letter 'a'. This is the title image for a comprehensive article on choosing brand fonts.

By Nine Blaess | 11:56 min

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    Choosing brand fonts is about more than just aesthetics. Your brand typography significantly shapes the overall look of your brand identity and the way people perceive and interact with your company.

    In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about brand fonts, their impact on our perceptions, and what practical resources can help you choose your brand typography.

    By the end, you’ll be able to make an informed decision and choose a font that fits your unique brand personality and excites your target audience.

    A quick guide to choosing brand fonts can be found here.

    Difference Between Brand Font and Brand Typeface

    Before we get into brand fonts, let’s briefly clarify the difference between a “Brand Font” and a “Brand Typeface.”

    While the term “Brand Font” is often used, what you’re actually looking for is a “Brand Typeface”.

    Why is that? Quite simply, a typeface (font family), say Futura, encompasses a whole range of styles, while a font refers to just one of those styles, for example “Futura Regular.”

    Your brand typography needs to be flexible enough for a whole range of different applications and allow for future brand growth. Therefore, brand typeface will be more appropriate.

    What’s the Purpose of Brand Fonts?

    Just like your logo, brand colour palette and other visual elements, your brand fonts should help express your brand’s unique identity.

    Consistency plays a critical role in this.

    Imagine if every time you came into contact with a brand, you saw a different font—that would be pretty messy, right?

    By consistently using the same fonts across all touchpoints, you create a consistent experience for every interaction with your brand.

    Over time, this consistency strengthens your brand recognition and makes it easier for people to identify your brand. It also conveys a sense of reliability and shows that the brand is a constant that can be trusted.

    Characteristics of a Good Brand Font

    A good brand font strikes the perfect balance between uniqueness, legibility, and a harmonious fit with your overall brand identity.

    Here are some factors to consider when choosing your brand fonts:

    Alignment with Brand Identity

    The font—or combination of fonts—should reflect your brand’s personality, values, and positioning. 

    Whether your brand is modern and innovative, traditional and reliable, or creative and playful—the characteristics of the font should match the intended brand image.

    Distinctiveness

    A good brand font should stand out clearly and be easily recognisable. Through individual features, a font can help people remember and identify your brand.

    Air New Zealand and The New York Times fonts are good examples of this.

    Readability

    But remember: Above all, your brand font must be easy to read. It should be legible on all media, in different sizes, and on all types of backgrounds.

    Readability takes priority over distinctiveness, especially in body text.

    Versatility

    The font you choose should work well in different applications, on different devices and screen sizes.

    Also remember that you need to be able to emphasise text, for example, by using italics. If possible, choose a typeface that provides a wide range of weights and styles.

    Pairing Capability

    If you use multiple brand fonts, make sure they complement each other and make a harmonious pair.

    We’ll go into more detail about pairing fonts later.

    Timelessness

    It’s tempting to follow design trends. But a good brand font is timeless. Avoid fonts that can quickly become outdated. Your brand identity should stay relevant over time.

    Accessibility

    Make sure the fonts you choose meet accessibility standards so that your content is accessible to all users, including people with visual impairments.

    The Material Design Tool is a helpful resource when it comes to web accessibility.

    Licensing

    To avoid legal issues, you should always make sure that you have the right license for your fonts.

    As an alternative, you can also consider open source or custom fonts. We will discuss this topic in more detail later.

    Consistency

    I can’t stress this enough: Consistency is key to building a strong brand.

    Decide on one or two brand fonts that you can use across all touchpoints of your brand, whether digital or print—and stick with them.

    Adaptable to growth

    Choose brand fonts that can adapt well to the future growth of your business.

    For example, some fonts support different languages and characters, such as Hebrew or Japanese. Is this relevant to your brand?

    Since my clients are mostly from German-speaking countries or New Zealand, I check, for example, if the fonts include the German letters (ä, ö, and ü) or the Māori macrons (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū).

    Also, I usually look for larger font families (typefaces) so that we always have a few extra weights on hand as the brand grows.

    Understanding Font Personalities

    Interestingly, fonts can influence our perception, feelings, and behaviour. The subtle features of type affect how we interpret and perceive text.

    To create a successful brand identity, you should choose your brand fonts strategically. After all, the font should reflect the desired brand image.

    Let’s take a look at different attributes to understand the personalities of fonts:

    • Serif vs Sans-serif
    • High-contrast vs low-contrast
    • Vertical stress vs diagonal stress
    • Low x-height vs high x-height
    • Condensed vs extended
    • Rounded letterforms vs angular letterforms

    Serif vs Sans-Serif

    There are many classifications and sub-classifications, such as slab serif, Monotype, humanist sans-serifs, and script fonts … just to name a few.

    Let’s keep it simple and focus only on the distinction between serif and sans-serif fonts.

    The image shows a comparison between Serif and Sans-serif typefaces by displaying Garamond and Helvetica side by side. Garamond is a Serif typeface, characterized by the small lines or flourishes that extend from the ends of the letters. In contrast, Helvetica is a sans-serif typeface, which lacks these additional lines and has a simpler, more minimalistic appearance.

    Serif Fonts

    Serif fonts date back to the 18th century when stonemasons carved letters into rocks. You can identify them by their decorative flourishes at the end of the letterforms—called serifs.

    Because of their history, we perceive serif fonts as elegant, trustworthy and established. Law firms, wineries or newspaper brands might pick serif fonts to communicate their reliability and sophistication.

    Though, in the past decade, there has been a trend toward using serifs more playfully.

    Some well-known serif typefaces are BaskervilleTimes New Roman and Garamond. Open-source options include Playfair Display or Lora.

    Sans-Serif Fonts

    Sans-serif fonts emerged around 1800. Though, they only gained popularity in the 1920 –30s thanks to the Bauhaus movement.

    While serif fonts convey a sense of tradition and sophistication, sans serif fonts have a modern and clean aesthetic. These fonts fit seamlessly into “everyday designs” across a range of industries, from sports brands to tech companies.

    FuturaUnivers and Helvetica are popular sans-serif typefaces. If you are looking for open-source alternatives, consider RobotoOpen Sans, Source Sans 3 or Inter.

    Tip: Don’t pair two fonts of the same classification. Rather than two serif fonts, pair a sans-serif font with a serif font. This creates more contrast and the fonts do not compete with each other.

    High Contrast vs Low Contrast

    Now, let’s talk about font contrast.

    Contrast is the variation in stroke width within the letterforms. High-contrast fonts have noticeable variations, while low-contrast ones are more uniform.

    High contrast fonts exude a sense of sophistication. They are often found in the branding of luxury labels or in upscale hotels, where they indicate exclusivity and premium pricing.

    Bodoni is a good example of a high-contrast font, and Prata if you’re looking for a free alternative.

    Low-contrast fonts, like Helvetica, on the other hand, communicate sturdiness and trust. 

    Image comparing the typefaces Bodoni and Helvetica to illustrate the contrast between low and high contrast fonts. The Bodoni typeface has high contrast with thin hairline strokes and thick serifs, while the Helvetica typeface has low contrast with uniform strokes and no serifs.

    Tip: Use high-contrast fonts only for headlines and large text. Their fine lines make them hard to read in small sizes, like body text.

    Vertical Stress vs Diagonal Stress

    Let’s look at another aspect: the stress of the axis, or the angle at which contrast occurs within letterforms. To determine the stress of of a font, just look at the letter “O.”

    Image demonstrates the difference between vertical stress and angular stress in typography by comparing Bodoni, a typeface with high contrast and vertical stress, with Garamond, a typeface with lower contrast and angular stress.

    Typefaces with diagonal stress, such as Garamond, have their origins in the calligraphy of old-style Roman typography. They have a warm and human appeal and are easy to read. That is why they are often used in body text.

    Typefaces with vertical stress, like Bodoni, on the other hand, have a more modern, almost industrial and rigid feel.

    Tip: Pair fonts with similar stress angles.

    Low X-Height vs High X-Height

    Let’s look at another factor: the x-height. The x-height is the height of a lowercase “x.”

    It can influence the character and readability of a font. 

    A font with a low x-height, like Mr Eaves, can appear more delicate and premium, while a font with a high x-height, say Helvetica, can appear stronger and more robust.

    The image displays a comparison of two typefaces, Mr Eaves and Helvetica, to illustrate the difference in their x-heights. Mr Eaves has a relatively low x-height, while Helvetica has a higher x-height in comparison. The text is presented in black on a white background.

    When working with body text, pay special attention to the x-height.

    Fonts with a low x-height might cause problems at smaller sizes, as their counters (those enclosed spaces in letters like “c”) tend to fill up visually and may be read as “o.”

    On the other hand, fonts with a high x-height have their own problems.

    When reading, our brains tend to grasp the shape of whole words rather than individual letters. In fonts with an exceptionally high x-height, the eye may have trouble distinguishing these word shapes, making reading more difficult.

    Tip: In font pairing, choose two or more fonts with a similar x-height to make them feel related.

    Condensed vs Extended

    Next up are condensed and extended fonts.

    Condensed fonts, such as Gotham Condensed, are narrow and have tight spacing, which makes them useful for fitting a lot of text into a small space. They are often used in newspaper headlines or other situations where space is at a premium.

    Condensed fonts look precise and convey a sense of reliability and professionalism. They also have an energetic feel, which makes them suitable for sports brands, for example.

    Extended fonts, like Franklin Gothic Wide, are wider and airier. They are often used in designs that convey positivity, lightness, and openness.

    The image compares the typography of Akzidenz Grotesk condensed and Akzidenz Grotesk extended, showcasing the contrast between the two variations. The condensed font appears taller and narrower, while the extended font appears wider and more spread out.

    Tip: Superfamilies often have condensed and extended styles. You can pair them to create tension and interest.

    Rounded Letterforms vs Angular Letterforms

    Now let’s look at the last characteristic: the shape of the letters themselves.

    Rounded letter shapes often have a positive association and evoke a feeling of happiness, comfort and friendliness. Their soft and playful appearance makes them suitable for brands aimed at children or families, for example.

    A study has proven this: People associate curved, light and sans-serif fonts with positive qualities such as sprightliness, sparkle, dreaminess, and soaring.

    More angular letterforms, on the other hand, convey a sense of strength, stability and authority. This quality makes them a common choice for corporate branding.

    Free vs Paid vs Custom Fonts—Which Is Ideal?

    Whether you choose free, paid or custom fonts depends on your brand’s priorities, budget, and long-term goals. Each option comes with its own advantages and drawbacks.

    Let’s have a closer look:

    Free Fonts

    There’s a wide selection of open-source fonts. This makes them a cost-effective option for startups or small businesses with limited budgets. But because they’re so ubiquitous, they’re often not very distinctive.

    Pros

    • Cost-Effective for small businesses and startups
    • Easily accessible to all designers involved

    Cons

    • Often come with a limited number of weights and styles
    • They are used frequently, which makes them less distinctive and original
    • The quality of free fonts may vary
    • Some fonts may not be available in all required formats (web, print, desktop)

    Where to Look?

    You can find open-source fonts on countless platforms, such as:

    Paid Fonts

    Paid fonts offer a wider range of possibilities. They often feature higher quality and have more styles and weights.

    Investing in paid fonts can help your brand stand out.

    Also, I think it’s only fair for a profitable business to pay font designers for their great work.

    Pros

    • Greater choice compared to free fonts
    • Often come with a wider range of styles and weights
    • Professional design ensures higher quality and consistency
    • Less likely that other brands will use the same fonts
    • Wide range of pricing options for every budget

    Cons

    • The cost for the fonts increases your branding budget
    • Some fonts may not be available in all formats you need (web, print, desktop)

    Where to Look?

    You can get paid fonts from various platforms, such as font foundries or third-party vendors. Here are a few suggestions:

    Foundries:

    Others:

    Custom fonts 

    Did you know there’s a third option? Custom fonts take your branding to the next level because they are designed specifically for your brand identity.

    Creating a custom font can be expensive at first, but worth it in the long run.

    Especially on the web, where prices often increase with the number of users, a custom font can be more cost-effective in the long run.

    Pros

    • Designed specifically for your brand
    • Can be perfectly adapted to your brand’s identity, messaging and values
    • Can increase brand recognition and identification
    • Can become a long-term asset for your brand

    Cons

    • High investment in time and budget upfront
    • Integration of a custom font into various platforms and applications requires technical know-how

    Where to Start?

    Want to develop a custom font, but unsure where to start? Your brand designer can offer advice and guidance.

    Additionally, the following resources may be helpful too:

    • Some foundries, such as Dalton Maag or TypeType design custom brand fonts
    • Freelance font designers
    • Font design software like Glyphs

    Step-By-Step-Guide on Choosing Your Brand Fonts

    Learn how to choose your brand fonts in 12 easy steps:

    1. Understand Your Brand

    Before you get into font selection, it’s critical to develop a clear understanding of your brand. This foundation should guide your font selection decisions:

    • What is your brand’s mission?
    • What core values does your brand represent?
    • Who is your target audience?
    • What does the competitive landscape look like and what differentiates your brand?
    • What unique personality does your brand embody?

    2. Define Font Objectives

    Set clear goals for your brand fonts. You can consider the following questions:

    • What emotions do you want the font to evoke?
    • How can it convey your brand’s personality?
    • How does it fit with other brand elements, such as your brand voice?
    • How can it differentiate your brand and make it recognisable?
    • How can it appeal to your audience?
    • What is your budget, and what are your priorities—can or should you afford a paid or custom font?
    • Is your brand digitally focused and do you need to consider load times on the web?

    3. Reflect Brand Personality

    Your font choice should reflect the personality of your brand. Here are two examples:

    • For playful brands, quirky brand fonts might be appropriate.
    • Exclusive brands might opt for more classic fonts.

    4. Get inspired

    Browse different sources to find fonts that match your brand. Here are some examples:

    5. Choose Font Classifications

    Fonts fall into four main categories: Serif, Sans Serif, Script, and Display. Each category has its own vibe:

    • Serifs convey tradition and formality.
    • Sans-serif fonts represent modernity and simplicity.
    • Script fonts can be perceived as both elegant and handmade.
    • Display fonts can be luxurious, decorative, and eye-catching.

    6. Consider Readability

    While recognisability is important in branding, legibility is paramount. Make sure your brand fonts are legible in all media and sizes—especially in body text.

    7. Pair Fonts Thoughtfully

    We have touched on this topic before: Many brands use a mix of fonts to create variation, hierarchy, and recognition.

    Consider choosing a dominant font for headlines and a complementary font for body text. Pair fonts that provide contrast but complement each other. For example:

    • Combine different classifications, such as serif and sans-serif fonts.
    • Choose fonts with equal x-heights.
    • Choose fonts with a similar stress.
      Use different weights for better visual hierarchy.
    • Combine fonts with similar properties. For example, fonts from the same type designer.

    8. Test Across Applications

    Fonts can display differently on different platforms and devices. Ensure consistency across all media, both on screen and in print:

    • Test in different browsers, operating systems, and on different devices.
    • Make sure readability remains constant from banners to mobile screens.

    9. Avoid Trends

    While trendy fonts might seem appealing, they can quickly become outdated. Opt for timeless fonts that withstand the test of time and remain relevant over many years.

    10. Legal Considerations

    Make sure you have the correct license to use the fonts. Font licensing terms can vary depending on the provider and the intended use (personal, commercial, web, print, etc.).

    11. Ensure consistency

    Make sure your brand fonts are used consistently, even when multiple designers are involved. Create brand guidelines as a reference to specify the fonts and their usage.

    12. Seek Professional Help

    If typography and branding are not your expertise, bring in a professional brand designer. They can guide you through the process and make sure your choices are in line with your brand’s vision.

    Useful Typography Tools and Resources

    Here are a few more useful resources and tools worth looking into:

    • FontPair helps you discover font combinations that work harmoniously for both headings and body text.
    • Typewolf is great for inspiration for new fonts and font pairing.
    • Fonts In Use is a platform that showcases how fonts are applied in real-world design projects, including branding.
    • Butterick’s Practical Typography is a comprehensive online guide that covers various aspects of typography, from type anatomy to formatting techniques.
    • My article gives you 20 practical tips to improve your typography, including tips and tricks I didn’t mention here.
    • Type Matters by Jim Williams offers insights into the significance of fonts and typography in branding.

    Summary

    In short, choosing brand fonts can be a challenge. But with the knowledge from this article, you’ll be well equipped to find fonts that reflect your brand identity while being distinctive, legible, versatile and timeless.

    And over time, you have a good chance of turning your brand fonts into distinctive brand assets.

    Do you need help, selecting your brand fonts? I’m here to help.

    Nine Blaess

    Nine Blaess

    Hello, I’m Nine. I blend strategy and design to craft engaging brand identities and websites that celebrate the uniqueness of each business.

    Sign up for my newsletter and get my hands-on Brand Storytelling Workbook in return.

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